How do I collect coins?

Generally speaking, when I write these blogs, any time I refer to coin collecting I am in my mind including the collection of paper money, tokens, medals, and military awards. To me they are all specialized branches of the general field of numismatics. “Numismatics” is a word that describes the study of coins, and by extension the study of anonymous items of value or representations of value in commerce. And I’m referring to coins, because I like coins, but I could be talking about anything you might happen to be collecting, the basic principles of collecting apply to all categories of collectibles. 

Starting the collection 

Ok, so you’ve noticed that you like coins, meaning the round, flat metal objects that people use (or used to use) to buy things. You look at them when you get them back as change from a cash transaction. If you find something catches your eye, maybe you keep it. Maybe you look at it again later. Maybe you get a bunch of them, creating a pile of coins that you find interesting. 

And maybe you find yourself learning more about the coins that you’ve accumulated. Maybe you start organizing what you have: this kind of coin in this bag, another kind in that bag. Your accumulation is starting to turn into a collection. 

An accumulation of Mercury dimes
An accumulation
A collection of Mercury dimes
A collection

The difference between an accumulation and a collection is curation. You get more of what you like and get rid of what you don’t like. You keep track of what you have. You learn how to store your stuff properly so as to keep the quality of your things from deteriorating. Those are the essential elements of collecting anything: what to collect, learn how the field works, go ahead and do it. 

There are three main concepts to consider when starting your collection: 

  1. How to get them? 
  2. How to keep them? (storage & display) 
  3. Investment 

Getting them: Do I have to spend money to collect coins? 

Technically, since coins have value, even if you collect USA state quarters out of pocket change, you are saving those coins rather than spending them, and by not spending them you are, in effect, spending them on your collection. So the answer is “yes,” you have to spend money to collect coins. 

Of course, your investment in your pocket change will likely yield no growth in the value of your collection, unless you get lucky with an error or something rare, which could happen.  What does “rare” mean? There is a range of availability that goes like this: common, scarce, rare. Common means you definitely will run into it, scarce means you might if you’re lucky, rare means probably not. Rare doesn’t automatically mean expensive. There has to be market demand to be expensive. 

And then there is the matter of the one or two coins that you figure you should be able to find in your pocket change, but somehow just haven’t been able to. There are thousands of coin dealers who will help you to find the missing ones, including us. Enter a phrase in the search box to the left on this page. Maybe we have something you’re looking for. If not, then send us an email and ask us. There are about 40,000 things in stock at the moment. Most are not yet posted to this website. 

Grading 

different grades of Washington quarters
Left coin = very good (VG), middle = uncirculated (Unc), right = proof

Grade and condition refer to the same thing: the degree of wear of your collectible object. You might decide that you really prefer your coins to be in better condition than you’ll find in your pocket change. Except for the current year’s coins, you’re unlikely to get perfect uncirculated coins from circulation. And then there are “proofs,” which are versions of a coin made with special care. (To see if we have any proofs in stock enter the term proof in the search box.) Again, there are the dealers, like me, ready to help you do what you want to do, which is obtain nice coins. Proofs were only made from the late 18th century on. Please check out our World Coins collection (link here) to see thousands of modern coins. 

What are the “Best” Coins to Collect? 

Depends what you want to do. Collecting is, generally speaking, an avocational pastime. It’s a hobby thing. It’s hard to get in trouble with, and it is done for amusement. People who engage in collecting have enough spare time and money to have a hobby. They do it because it is what they want to do. 

There are three basic approaches that most collectors seem to take in building their collection: 

  1. Theme 
  2. I just like them
  3. Investment  

Collecting Coins Around a Theme 

Collecting based on “theme” is dictated by a guiding principle that groups the collected things together. You seek out items that are related, and you acquire them.  

The theme can be anything. Here are 9 themes: 

  • One coin of each country 
  • One coin of each century 
  • Coin types of a particular country 
  • Date and mintmark sets of a particular coin type 
  • Queens 
  • Spanish colonial silver 
  • Roman coins on which the Emperor’s portrait faces left 
  • Chinese coins of the Ming Dynasty 
  • Ecclesiastical gold ducats of Switzerland

And so forth, forever. At Golden Rule Enterprises Coins, we have thousands of interesting coins that might contribute to your chosen theme. You can start your journey by perusing our inventory here!

Collecting Coins Because You Like Them 

“I just like them.” Well, that’s fine. They’re your coins, you can select them according to any criteria that appeal to you, and you can do whatever you want with them. No reason to do what other people do. I knew a collector who assembled two collections of Byzantine coins: a set of “good ones” and another set of low grades. Took all of the low grade coins and embedded them in an epoxy table top. His coins, nobody else’s business. 

A lot of people start out with a “general” collection, bits of everything that’s out there that they can afford. From that mass of stuff perhaps they develop a specialization, get rid of the other stuff, sell it back to us, perhaps. Some people just keep going on the general collection. I have purchased collections of 20,000 different coins, each one carefully acquired, logged in a ledger, in handwritten envelopes. Lot of love that collector put into that collection. 

Collecting Coins as an Investment to Build Value

Investment requires learning the value aspects of the field and then conducting due diligence on prospective purchases, with the thought of growth always present in the analysis. Right? I mean, you don’t buy a house just because it gives you a good feeling, you think about the future return. Same with coins. But not all coins.

Not sure of how to tell the value of a coin? Hang around where there are coins and ask people, mostly. Everyone thinks they know what they’re doing after they’ve been at it for a while. Maybe so. You can ask them things. You can ask us things. We’ve been doing coins for fifty years.  

At Golden Rule Enterprises, we not only sell and buy coins, we also do appraisals and consulting. You can hire us to look for coins for you and buy them on your behalf, or you can ask us if that would be a good idea. 

Storage  

The physical question of “how best to store my coins?” needs to be considered.  

If you just keep them loose in bags or boxes, you won’t be able to find what you’re looking for when you want to show that nice one to somebody, and they’ll bang and rub against each other, getting worn just lying there. 

You’ll want to keep each individual coin to itself so it doesn’t contact other coins. There are 3 ways this is usually done: holders, albums, and trays.  

You’ll want some kind of “orderly” filing system so you can find them easily. 

Just about everyone uses holders. Trays take up so much space mostly only dealers use them for convenient setup at shows. The trays might accommodate standard holders or not. Holders are the norm. 

Holders are either see-through or paper envelopes. See-through holders come in hard and soft types. There is a standard size: 2 inches square, other sizes exist. Coins in holders can be stored in boxes or in pockets on plastic pages in a binder. Coins in trays are sometimes left unholdered.  

Display

Display is slightly different than simply storing your collection, because “display” means you want them out and visible (but still protected). There are various manufactured products that can be obtained, including trays and frames. And, of course, you can make things on your own. It depends on how you want them “featured”: Laying down behind a glass cover? Obverse and reverse visible? Thematically related pieces on display together? Display is dependent on your desires.  

There are commercial products and custom artisans who will make display items for you. Ask us. We’ll discuss with you. 

Secure Holders

Briefly, there are hard plastic holders of a certain degree of durability that will protect your coins from ordinary wear (but not fire or deliberate attempts at damage). Some of them are sealable and the holders need to be broken with a hammer to get the coin back out. The various certification companies use these kinds of holders. In the coin business we refer to coins in those holders from the companies as “slabs,” and the coins inside as “slabbed coins.” 

Insurance

If your collection gets to a certain value, you’ll find yourself thinking about insurance. The two kinds of insurance are “buy a policy” or “put them in a safe deposit box at a bank.” Those two possibilities will suffice to cover most situations that might arise. But the devil is in the details. You can ask us for opinions

Are Coins a Good Investment? 

Is anything a good investment? Think about any category of thing that can be bought and sold. There is “good stuff” and “ordinary stuff” and “substandard stuff.” 

Regarding the bottom end stuff, it may be possible to make a bit of money on a quick flip if someone has a use for it, but if you created a collection of that category, only cheap stuff, you’re highly unlikely to get your money back. 

Ordinary stuff is the same, in terms of investment. Whatever money you may have spent, you’ll be lucky if you get your money back out. 

That leaves the “good” stuff. Rare things in high grade. As a generalization, the higher you go the better you’ll do when you sell (up to a point). So, if you’re interested in making money from your interesting hobby, that’s where you’ll conduct your activities: as close to the deep end as you can afford. 

I’m excluding the activity at the tippy tippy top, where the million-dollar coins are. Maybe those high bids at top auction houses will work out for the purchaser. A lot of times they have to make up some reason to be happy with their investment that they’ve been unable to sell at a profit. 

But, Basically, You Just Like Coins (And That Is Why You Are Here)

That’s the long and the short of it. Otherwise it would be something else. Fashion. Games. Real estate. Travel. 

In the macro-human sense, collecting in general is a minority activity in which most people do not participate. Everyone eats food. Not everyone collects. Those who do know themselves to be somehow special. 

Coins have been the most durable collectible category over 2000 years. There are records in China of people collecting the old coins in the time of the Han Dynasty, which coincided with the rise of Rome. They were seeking out and buying coins that were 500 years old all the way back then. Even now, when the possibility of a future without coins seems reasonable, there are millions of coin collectors. 

I now invite you to check out our newest stuff, which is always at the top of the home page.

Who wrote this?

Bob Reis has been a coin nut for 50 years and has been a coin dealer through thick and thin since 1978.